16 ways to stay at the top of the game
1 STAFF DEVELOPMENT BUDGET
The person in charge of the budget may be saving it all for the latest scheme to includemapotherwise insert something into your already overcrowded day. Worse still, it may be earmarked for a week's residential with the bloke she met at last year's residential.
2 COURSE FLIERS
Every day dozens of course flyers fill your head of department's pigeon-hole, so make sure you see them. And in your annual performance review, state loudly that you need updating in Jacobean drama for key stage 5, not integrating key skills. Sooner or later the message will get through.
3 JOIN YOUR SUBJECT ASSOCIATION
A relatively painless way of keeping up to date. For your money you receive a newsletter which will announce recent research in your field, and your association may be active in lobbying to influence policy and fund research of its own. Become active in the association and sit on consultative groups - after all, where did they get all the people to agonise for years about the national curriculum from?
4 SAVE MONEY AT THE SAME TIME
Remember, as you cough up your fee of pound;40 or so per annum to join an association, you can claim tax relief on the money.
5 EXAM MARKING
This is the best thing to do if you are a person who would rather go to the pub than go on a course. Old hands will tell you exam marking isn't worth the money, but at least there is money. Marking the paper forces you to be up to date, with the mark scheme giving you the answers. The examiners' meetings are full of people showing off their subject knowledge, so take notes. This is the way to stay on top of your subject if you're a prevaricator. And it'll pay enough for a holiday. You have to get permission from your head, but the school is paid for your attendance at meetings. Contact the Office for Civil Rights, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance or Edexcel.
6 THE OPEN UNIVERSITY
You're a new teacher so you've probably been to a bog-standard university with buildings, bars, debauchery and a bit of work.
You may think it was a good university. Actually, it was social life with a degree attached. The Open University is a good university and exists for people who thirst for knowledge. You can enrol for odd degree modules which fill gaps in your knowledge - that course on Monday morning that you never bothered to attend, for example. The modules look good in your continuing professional development file whether they build to a qualification or not.
7 EXTRA QUALIFICATIONS
The OU also runs postgraduate courses for teachers, where you can expand your subject knowledge and get more letters after your name.
8 BLAG SOME TRAINING
Here we're getting into the more unorthodox practices, but many colleagues may have done this. Your local university will not only run a programme of evening classes but will also have part-time degrees, PGCE modules and MA programmes. You don't need to do the whole thing. If you find out what's on, and something looks good, ring them. But on no account ring the admissions office as they will have a procedure and will be inflexible. Instead, get through to the harassed academic course leader and ask if you can just attend for as long as the bit that interests you lasts. Stress that it will help you, and your presence as a practising teacher may add something to the class. Offer to pay an appropriate fee - this causes confusion as they won't have a fee structure for odd bits so it may be easier to let you attend free. A friend attended part of a primary maths MA module course free and got a promotion to maths co-ordinator. If you don't ask, you don't get.
9 TRY YOUR LEA
Your local education authority inspectors or advisers will undoubtedly run some provision at convenient twilight times. These aren't always well publicised so phone them and ask. Better still, if a group of you from across the authority are interested in something, ask them to put a session together for you. Be pro-active. Remember your authority for the future too, if you take a career break to travel. They run free courses for returners to teaching.
10 LOOK FOR FREEBIES
If you're lucky enough to get a job in a neighbouring local education authority, don't tell the one training you, and you'll be able to carry on. A colleague received two years' free courses this way.
11 JOIN A SUBJECT SPECIALIST GROUP
You can't beat discussion in the "real world" as opposed to online. If you are isolated, or in a small department, see if other local teachers meet on a regular basis. Some schools put aside one of their five training days so subject teachers across an area can meet. If there's no sign of this, start one yourself. Write to the teachers in charge of your subject in all the schools within easy reach and see if there's any interest. If there is, approach your head and ask if one of your staff development days, or half of one, can be organised for subject updating.
12 WATCH TV
Sometimes staying up to date can be as simple as swapping soaps for something more factual. There is plenty to watch: sport, history, geography, economics, popular science. A colleague was watching the British women's curling team win gold at the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in the United States in 2002 (cover picture). As they did the ice-brushing bit, he suddenly understood how he could explain a part of the A-level maths syllabus on friction. The next lesson, during an Ofsted inspection, he arrived with a broom, swept the floor, and delivered what the inspector described as the most inspirational lesson she'd seen.
13 JUSTIFY LEISURE TIME
Don't completely give up on soaps - Coronation Street is going to mirror King Lear with a storyline about Mike Baldwin developing Alzheimer's.
14 USE THE INTERNET
If you haven't done so yet, join The TES online staffroom and dip into your subject forum for updates and ideas. Special interest sites will email you when they have been updated, and you can subscribe to discussion groups and feel virtuous while wasting time instant messaging.
15 BE WELL INFORMED
Paid online subscriptions to newspapers such as the Financial Times and Economist can be useful, and keeping an eye on the BBC's website is invaluable. To put something back join a "wiki" - a website that allows users to add content, as on an internet forum, but also allows anyone to edit the content. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, is the best known: http:en.wikipedia.orgwikiMain_Page
16 TRAIN AS A MODERATOR, VERIFIER OR INSPECTOR
This is the "sell your soul to Satan" option and more applicable to secondary and FE teachers. As a sort of external examiner, you will be kept up to date by your exam board, and you get to descend on other schools and colleges to confirm grading or examine, inspect and grade their exam work.
As well as getting a self-esteem boost by having your fellow teachers grovel, you get to pick up a host of useful tips from them. Ultimately, you might become an Ofsted inspector, in which case you become all-powerful and whatever you say is up to date subject knowledge.